Benevolence Without Love

“If I give all my possessions to feed the poor . . . but do not have love, it profits me nothing” (1 Cor. 13:3).

Love is characterized by self-sacrifice, but not all self-sacrifice is an act of love.

If you’ve ever donated to your church or another charitable organization out of obligation, peer pressure, legalism, guilt, a desire for recognition, or simply a tax deduction, you know what it means to give without love. In our society it’s easy to fall prey to that kind of giving because the needs are so great and fund raisers appeal to every conceivable motive. In addition, many cults and false religions encourage the giving up of possessions and other sacrificial gestures as a supposed means of earning God’s favor. But God is more interested in why you give than what you give.

Paul’s hypothetical illustration in 1 Corinthians 13:3 is of someone who sacrificed everything he had to feed the poor. The Greek word translated “to feed” means “to dole out in small quantities.” Apparently this guy didn’t simply write out a check for a food distribution program; he was personally involved in a long-term, systematic program that would eventually consume every resource he had.

Paul doesn’t mention motives—only that this person lacked love. Consequently, the benefits of his benevolence were limited to the physical realm. Any spiritual benefits were forfeited.

Jesus, making a similar point, said, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 6:1). If your motive for giving is to gain the approval of men, their accolades will be your only reward. If you’re motivated by love for God, He will reward you abundantly (vv. 2-4).

When you give to the Lord, what is your motive? Do you want others to think more highly of you? Do you feel obligated? Those are subtle influences, so be sure to guard your motives carefully. Remember, the only acceptable motive is love.

Suggestions for Prayer

  • Ask the Holy Spirit to keep you sensitive to the needs of others, enabling you always to give out of genuine love.

For Further Study

  • Read Luke 18:9-14.
  • How did the Pharisee’s prayer differ from the tax-gatherer’s?
  • How did God respond to each prayer?

From Drawing Near by John MacArthur Copyright © 1993. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, http://www.crossway.com.

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The Source Of True Love

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God. . . . We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:7, 19).

True love cannot be generated on the human level. It’s a gift from God.

Scripture often makes seemingly impossible demands of us. For example, Jesus said, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). That’s easy to say, but how is it possible? Our natural tendency is to love our friends and hate our enemies. But Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (vv. 46-47).

Israel viewed tax-gatherers as traitors, and Gentiles as spiritual outcasts. Yet even traitors and outcasts show love and kindness to those who reciprocate. Jesus calls us to a much higher standard of love—one that is impartial, like God demonstrates when He “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (v. 45). As we see from God Himself, it extends even to those who aren’t worthy: “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

Despite generations of rebellion and slander against His holy will and name, God sacrificed His beloved Son, thereby providing the means by which sinners can be saved. Out of love, Jesus willingly endured the pain and shame of the cross and paid the price of our redemption. Now that’s divine love in action!

God commands you to love as He loves: impartially and sacrificially. That may sound impossible on the human level but remember that God never requires you to do anything He hasn’t already enabled you to do. At the moment of your salvation, the Holy Spirit took up residence within you and began producing the fruit of love (Gal. 5:22). You don’t have to muster it up on your own. All you have to do is invite the Spirit to take control, allowing Him to govern your thoughts and actions. As you do, His precious fruit will be multiplied in your life.

Suggestions for Prayer

  • Thank God for the love of the Spirit He has placed within you.
  • Ask Him for opportunities today to learn how to love more perfectly.

For Further Study

  • Memorize Galatians 5:22-23.

From Drawing Near by John MacArthur Copyright © 1993. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, http://www.crossway.com.

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Rejoicing In Your Inheritance

“IN THIS YOU GREATLY REJOICE” (1 PET. 1:6).

Contemplating your eternal inheritance should give you joy that transcends any temporal circumstance.

Joy is a major theme in Scripture. The psalmist said, “Sing for joy in the Lord, O you righteous ones; praise is becoming to the upright” (Ps. 33:1); “My lips will shout for joy when I sing praises to Thee; and my soul, which Thou hast redeemed” (Ps. 71:23).

Even creation itself is said to rejoice in the Lord: “Thou dost make the dawn and the sunset shout for joy. . . . Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all it contains; let the field exalt, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy before the Lord. . . . Let the mountains sing together for joy before the Lord; for He is coming to judge the earth” (Ps. 65:8; 96:11-13; 98:8-9).

Joy is the special privilege of every believer, regardless of his or her circumstances. You might suffer untold heartache and persecution for your faith in Christ, but amid the severest trials, God wants you to know profound joy. That’s why Peter said, “To the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation” (1 Pet. 4:13).

First Peter 1:6-9 identifies five elements of your Christian life that should bring you joy amid trials. The first is your protected inheritance. That’s what Peter referred to when he said, “In this you greatly rejoice” (v. 6, emphasis added). Other elements include a proven faith, a promised honor, a personal fellowship, and a present deliverance (vv. 6-9), which we will explore in coming days.

The Greek word translated “greatly rejoice” in 1 Peter 1:6 is not the usual Greek word for “rejoice.” Peter used a more expressive and intense word, which speaks of one who is happy in a profound spiritual sense rather than a temporal or circumstantial sense. That’s the quality of joy God grants to those who trust in Him and look beyond their temporal trials to the glory of their eternal inheritance. Let that be your focus as well.

Suggestions for Prayer

  • Thank God for the joy that transcends circumstances.

For Further Study

  • Read John 16:16-22.
  • According to Jesus, why would the disciples lament?
  • What would bring them joy?
  • What does their experience teach you about the basis for your joy as a Christian?

From Drawing Near by John MacArthur Copyright © 1993. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, http://www.crossway.com.

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Receiving Compassion

“YOU ONCE WERE NOT A PEOPLE, BUT NOW YOU ARE THE PEOPLE OF GOD; YOU HAD NOT RECEIVED MERCY, BUT NOW YOU HAVE RECEIVED MERCY” (1 PET. 2:10).

Because of God’s compassion, He withholds the just punishment of your sin.

Hosea had a unique role among the prophets. God used him and his adulterous wife, Gomer, as living illustrations of His love for unfaithful Israel. When Gomer gave birth to a daughter, the Lord told Hosea to name her Lo-ruhamah, which means “No mercy,” because His mercy for Israel would soon come to an end. When Gomer later gave birth to a son, the Lord said to call him Lo-ammi, which means “Not mine,” for He no longer considered Israel His people. Yet He offered this hope, saying, “It will come about that, in the place where it is said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ it will be said to them, ‘You are the sons of the living God'” (Hos. 1:10).

In our Scripture for today, Peter applied that Old Testament text to the New Testament church, just as Paul did in Romans 9:25-26: “I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’ and her who was not beloved, ‘Beloved.’ And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ there they shall be called sons of the living God.” God rejected unbelieving Israel, but extended His compassion to anyone willing to trust in Christ. It is particularly true that Gentiles in the church were once not the people of God, but now have received mercy and are God’s beloved children.

God’s mercy includes His general providential care for all mankind, but Hosea, Peter, and Paul were speaking of His special compassion—first in salvation, then in daily blessings—for those who belong to Him. By it He withholds the punishment we deserve for our sins and grants us His lovingkindness instead.

As you reflect on God’s mercy in your own life, let Psalm 136:1 be the song of your heart: “O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth forever” (KJV).

Suggestions for Prayer

  • Memorize Psalm 59:16-17. Recite it often in praise to the Lord.

For Further Study

  • What do these verses teach about God’s mercy: Psalm 103:11, 2 Corinthians 1:3, and Titus 3:5?

From Drawing Near by John MacArthur Copyright © 1993. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, http://www.crossway.com.

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Loving Christ

“THIS PRECIOUS VALUE, THEN, IS FOR YOU WHO BELIEVE” (1 PET. 2:7).

Love for Christ is the primary characteristic of a true believer.

First Peter 2:7 speaks of the believer’s affection for Christ as contrasted to an unbeliever’s rejection of Him. The first part of that verse could be translated, “To you who believe, He is precious.” “Precious” means “valuable,” “costly,” “without equal,” or “irreplaceable.” Christ is all that, but only believers recognize His supreme value and regard Him with affection.

Affection for Christ is the bottom-line characteristic of true believers. Believing in Him and loving Him are inseparable. In John 16:27 Jesus says, “The Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed.” In Matthew 10:37 He says, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” Believers have a compelling and surpassing love for Christ.

To His antagonists Jesus declared, “If God were your Father, you would love Me” (John 8:42). Anyone who truly loves God will love Christ. Those antagonists claimed to be children of God, but their deception was revealed when they tried to kill Jesus for preaching God’s truth. They were in fact children of the devil (v. 44).

In John 14 Jesus adds, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. . . . He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him. . . . If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words” (vv. 15, 21, 23- 24).

Many people are confused about what it means to be a Christian. But you have the privilege of clarifying the issue as you esteem Christ highly, love Him deeply, and demonstrate your love by obeying His Word. May God bless you richly as you pursue that goal today.

Suggestions for Prayer

  • Ask God to give you opportunities to demonstrate Christ’s love in specific ways to those around you.

For Further Study

  • Read 1 John 4:7-5:3.
  • How did John characterize God?
  • What affect should your love for God have on your relationships with others?
  • How did John define love?

From Drawing Near by John MacArthur Copyright © 1993. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, http://www.crossway.com.

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Union With Christ

“YOU ALSO, AS LIVING STONES, ARE BEING BUILT UP AS A SPIRITUAL HOUSE” (1 PET. 2:5).

Christ is your life, and you are an integral part of what He is accomplishing in the world.

The Jewish culture of Peter’s time centered on the Temple in Jerusalem. Apparently drawing from that picture, Peter used vivid language to teach that God no longer dwells in an earthly, material, temporal house, but in a spiritual house. Christ is the cornerstone, and the spiritual house He is building is comprised of individual believers.

That analogy introduces us to the first spiritual privilege Christians enjoy: union with Christ Himself. That makes Christianity utterly unique among religions. Buddhists are not said to be in Buddha. Muslims are not in Muhammad. A Confucianist is not in Confucius. Only Christians are united with and receive their spiritual life from the object of their worship.

When you came to Christ, the living stone, you also became a living stone yourself. You possess His resurrection life and draw from His spiritual resources. That’s what Peter meant when he said that God “has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4).

Ephesians 2:19-22 adds, “You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” Christ is the cornerstone of the church, built on the foundation of biblical truth, which is the divine revelation given through the apostles and prophets. Rejoice in the privilege of being united with Christ and learning from His Word!

Suggestions for Prayer

  • Thank God for selecting you as one of His spiritual stones. Seek His wisdom and grace in living each day to His glory.

For Further Study

  • Read Acts 17:24, 1 Timothy 3:15, and Hebrews 3:6, noting what they teach about God’s spiritual house.

From Drawing Near by John MacArthur Copyright © 1993. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, http://www.crossway.com.

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Sacrificial Faith On Display

“IN THE SAME WAY WAS NOT RAHAB THE HARLOT ALSO JUSTIFIED BY WORKS, WHEN SHE RECEIVED THE MESSENGERS AND SENT THEM OUT BY ANOTHER WAY? JUST AS THE BODY WITHOUT THE SPIRIT IS DEAD, SO ALSO FAITH WITHOUT WORKS IS DEAD” (JAMES 2:25-26).

True faith willingly makes whatever sacrifices God requires.

It’s understandable that James would use Abraham as an illustration of living faith—especially to his predominately Jewish readers. Rahab, however, is a different story. She was a Gentile, a prostitute, a liar, and lived in the pagan city of Jericho. How could such a person illustrate true faith?

Rahab knew very little about the true God but what she knew, she believed, and what she believed, she acted on. She believed that God had led His people out of Egypt and defeated the Amorite kings (Josh. 2:9-10). She openly confessed that the Lord “is God in heaven above and on earth beneath” (v. 11). Her faith was vindicated when she aided the Hebrew spies who entered Jericho just prior to Joshua’s invasion.

Both Abraham and Rahab valued their faith in God above all else. Both were willing to sacrifice what mattered most to them: for Abraham it was Isaac; for Rahab it was her own life. Their obedience in the face of such great sacrifice proved the genuineness of their faith.

James calls each of us to examine ourselves to be sure we have a living faith. The acid test is whether your faith produces obedience. No matter what you claim, if righteousness doesn’t characterize your life, your faith is dead, not living. James likened that kind of faith to hypocrites who offer pious words to the needy but refuse to meet their needs; to demons, who believe the truth about God but are eternally lost; and to a lifeless, useless corpse. Those are strong analogies, but God does not want you to be deceived about the quality of your own faith.

I pray that you are rejoicing in the confidence that your faith is genuine. God bless you as you live each day in His wonderful grace.

Suggestions for Prayer

  • Ask God for the grace and courage to face any sacrifice necessary as you live out your faith.

For Further Study

  • Read Joshua 2:1-24; 6:1-27; and Matthew 1:1-5.
  • How did Rahab protect the spies?
  • How did God bless Rahab?

From Drawing Near by John MacArthur Copyright © 1993. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, http://www.crossway.com.

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